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Construction to begin soon on new Columbus Park development

Updated: 2013-11-21T20:20:37Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

Construction is set to begin soon on $1 million in public infrastructure between Third and Fifth streets, Cherry to Charlotte streets. Those sidewalks, water and sewer lines and new lighting will then pave the way for construction beginning next spring on the first building in a $12 million housing development.

“This is a project that has been working up to this point for a very long time,” Claude Page, a senior city planner, said about the city’s partnership with Columbus Park Developers.

Columbus Park is more than 100 years old, one of Kansas City’s oldest and most charming neighborhoods, just east of River Market and 10 minutes from City Hall.

But plopped in the middle of this residential neighborhood were 13 acres filled with industrial properties, including a Missouri Department of Transportation salt dome and street maintenance facility.

Back in 2004, Page explained, the city had sought proposals for removing and replacing those industrial properties with something more supportive of the neighborhood.

Within a few years, Columbus Park Developers was selected as the developer. But then it took more years to assemble the land, get the industrial properties moved, and put together the financing. The economic downturn in 2008 didn’t help.

The MoDOT facility has now been relocated to the West Bottoms, which was a better location for that use anyway, said Joe Egan, executive director of the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, which purchased the land on behalf of the city.

“It was a win/win for everybody,” he said of the MoDOT relocation.

Now, Egan said, the public infrastructure will make it possible to build the housing and what is ultimately planned as a much bigger, mixed-used development.

The city recently issued bonds for the $1 million in public infrastructure, which will be paid back with revenues from the Isle of Capri Casino. That casino money must be spent in the geographic area that includes Columbus Park.

Page said $1 million for infrastructure brings the total city investment so far to about $8 million, which will leverage many millions more in private investment.

Columbus Park Developers is a joint venture involving Zimmer Real Estate Services, Taliaferro & Browne Engineers, architect Kite Singleton and builder Larry Maxfield.

Others involved in the years of planning include the Housing Authority, the Columbus Park Community Council and the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority. The project team now also includes Gastinger Walker Harden Architects and City Builders as construction manager.

“It’s nice to see it finally coming together,” said Zimmer Senior Vice President Dan Musser, the project’s manager.

Construction on the first 16-unit apartment building, costing $1.5 million, is expected this February or March, Musser said. It will be built at the southeast corner of Fourth and Holmes streets, where the old salt dome was. Musser anticipates it will be ready for occupancy late next year. If leasing goes well, the plan is to complete 112 units in five buildings, totaling $12 million in rental housing in the next few years.

That development phase eventually would include 6,000 square feet of retail, with six additional loft apartments above. The retail could include a coffee shop, cafe and other neighborhood gathering spots.

Musser said he expects the first building will lease up fairly quickly, since occupancy is already high in the River Market, but the build-out will depend on market conditions. Still, Musser says the site has become increasingly attractive, especially since it is close to the planned downtown streetcar route from River Market to Union Station.

Musser said it’s gratifying to bring new construction to a historically significant, ethnically diverse part of town.

“What always interested me was it was a really good neighborhood,” Musser said, citing such amenities as great restaurants, parks and beautiful old buildings.

Ultimately, plans call for a $90 million development encompassing about 20 acres, from 3rd to 5th streets and from Cherry to Gillis streets, several blocks east of Charlotte. It would include 360 housing units ranging from apartments to townhomes to single-family homes, plus up to 30,000 square feet of commercial space.

But that full build-out will be done in phases and could take a decade.

Neighborhood leaders say the developer has worked well with them, and they are pleased something is finally happening.

“Hopefully it will bring new residents and new vibrancy,” said Dan Frueh, a board member with the Columbus Park Community Council who has been involved in the planning for more than 12 years. He’s especially hopeful about the mixed-use component, which he said should add to the offerings that residents already use at City Market.

City Council members Ed Ford and Jim Glover also believe all the city investment is finally paying off.

“I always thought Columbus Park could be one of the nicest areas,” Ford said.

Glover agreed.

“Part of the principle of the plan was to infuse the area with market rate housing,” he said. “My whole theory of redoing the Northeast is get Columbus Park done ... The important part is that Columbus Park be a link between Downtown and the Northeast.”

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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